Can You Give Me an Estimated Timetable for My Sprained Ankle's Recovery?

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Sprained ankles are extremely inconvenient, especially if they prevent you from participating in your favorite sports. Unfortunately, injuries to the ankle are all too common.

According to a 2019 review of the literature, acute ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries, with an annual incidence rate of about 2 million in the United States.

Finding the right treatment is essential, as a moderate ankle sprain can take up to three months to heal and a severe one up to six.

If you sprain your ankle, the good news is that you can recover and get back to doing what you love with the right:

  • diagnosis
  • rest
  • rehabilitation

Read on to learn about the various types of ankle sprains, the most effective methods of treatment, and preventative measures.

You may be concerned about the severity of your ankle sprain and how long it will take to recover after receiving this diagnosis.

One or more of the ligaments connecting the leg bones to the foot bones are to blame for an ankle sprain.

A person's ankle ligaments prevent the bones in that area from shifting. Ankle sprains occur when ligaments in the foot and ankle are overstretched or torn.

Physical therapist Eric Sampsell from The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics says, "In general, the more severe the sprain, the longer the recovery."

According to Sampsell, there is a grading system for sprains, from minimal to catastrophic. These grades are roughly correlated with the following healing times:

Ankle sprain, first degree

Sampsell describes a "first degree sprain" as a "mild tear of the ligament," which results in "mild swelling and pain" and typically heals quickly.

Injuries of the first degree (sprain) typically require three weeks of rest and rehabilitation. However, some people only need a few weeks to feel better, while others may need up to four.

Injuries to the ankle of the second degree, also known as a grade 2 sprain

Sampsell describes the symptoms of a second-degree sprain as "more severe" than those of a first-degree sprain, including "more swelling, pain, and loss of mobility."

If you suffer a second-degree sprain, healing will take more than four weeks. An average second-degree sprain can take anywhere from four to six weeks to recover from.

A sprained ankle of the third degree, also called a grade 3 sprain,

Sampsell says it will take much longer to recover from a third-degree sprain, which is a complete tear. It will take anywhere from three to six months for this sprain to heal, so please be patient.

An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan are the cornerstones of effective ankle sprain care.

According to Emily Sandow, DPT, OCS, program manager of physical therapy at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health, "it is not uncommon for an ankle sprain to be misdiagnosed, under-treated, or have compounding factors if left to heal on its own."

However, if you stick to a good physical therapy program, you can avoid many of these complications.

First, use RICE.

If you've been hurt, the first thing you should do is:

  • rest
  • down the swelling
  • avoid further harm

According to the AAOS (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons):

  • A: elevate the foot and ankle
  • 20 minutes of ice therapy three to four times daily
  • C: compress (if necessary).
  • Raise the heel off the ground

Assuming you don't require immediate surgical intervention, you'll move on to the rehabilitation and recovery phase.

Second, get back on your feet

According to Sandow, an ankle's mobility and functionality can improve and pain can subside rapidly in the first two weeks after an injury.

She explains, "Depending on the demands of one's daily life, some people can return to activities within 1 to 3 weeks."

But as Sandow notes, some people may still feel pain a year after an ankle injury.

It's for this reason that stepping in quickly is so important. Sampsell explains that unless a fracture is present, "starting weight-bearing exercises right away, with caution, can be beneficial for the healing process."

Sampsell says that if an ankle sprain isn't treated properly with physical therapy and medical care, the ligament may heal slightly stretched, which can lead to future ankle sprains.

His explanation: "In some cases, the domed bone at the top of the ankle, the talus, can get very stiff, which may limit the mobility of the ankle."

As an added bonus, the fibula has a small anterior range of motion. Sampsell claims that if this occurs, a skilled physical therapist can use a technique called mobilization to get the patient back to full function.

The initial benefits of altered movement patterns are questionable, and Sandow advises resuming normal walking patterns as soon as possible. She warns that "walking unnaturally will perpetuate a limp and cause abnormal loading and stress on the foot and ankle."

Phase Three: Rehab

According to Sandow, a physical therapist-supervised and activity-specific exercise program is the best way to speed recovery from an injury and prevent further harm.

She says, "This will hasten the recovery, increase confidence and strength in the ankle, prevent recurrence of the ankle injury, and allow a confident return to a normal lifestyle."

According to Sandow, the following are components of an effective rehabilitation program:

  • Increasing mobility back to normal
  • recovering power
  • regaining stability and trust in the ankle
  • incrementally reintroducing heavy impacts

On top of that, according to Sandow, specialized training in balance and control can:

  • quicken the healing process of a sprained ankle
  • protect against further ankle injuries
  • avoid developing chronic ankle instability.

When asked when they sprained their ankle, some people can pinpoint the exact moment, while others have to consider the activities they were engaging in at the time and how they may have contributed to the injury.

Injuries to the ankle caused by the following are extremely common:

  • crossing irregular terrain on foot or in a running stride
  • dropping down
  • sports requiring cutting, twisting, or rolling of the foot
  • Performing a jump and subsequent painful foot landing
  • Having your foot stepped on or landed on

As a result of the sudden twisting force or roll experienced by the foot or lower leg, the ankle joint is jarred out of its normal position during these actions. When this occurs, ligament(s) in the affected area may be sprained.

Ankle sprains can also be caused by having sprained them before. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that once you've sprained your ankle, it's more likely to happen again, especially if the ligaments don't heal properly.

If you are an athlete or very active person, the best case scenario is never having to deal with an ankle sprain.

As Sampsell puts it, "ankle sprains are strongly linked to weakness in the gluteal muscles or the core."

Since the hip flexors help keep your leg in place, he says that if you don't have them, you're more likely to suffer an ankle sprain.

The good news, according to Sampsell, is that a 2014 review of research found that balance training, such as balancing on one foot, can help prevent ankle sprains.

Ankle sprains can be avoided with regular strength training and the addition of ankle-specific exercises like balancing, band work, and stretching.

A sprained ankle can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal, depending on how badly it was twisted.

Healing time for an ankle sprain typically ranges from 3–4 weeks to 6 months. An accurate diagnosis and plan of care are essential for healing from an ankle sprain.

You can be sure you're making progress in the right direction if you and your doctor work together on both the initial treatment and the ongoing rehabilitation.

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